Saturday, 18 April 2015

The year list trots on and news of a twitch in Pembrokeshire

The Safari wasn't sure if we'd get out this morning or not as there were chores to be done. But we did put the mothy out last night for only the second time this year and when we opened it there was the first moth of the year inside, a Hebrew Character. The moth list is on its way.
A Pied Flycatcher had turned up close to Wifey's work last night and we were relieved it was still there this morning, it was very tempting! We had to decline a trip to the nature reserve early morning with CR but when news broke that the flycatcher was still around we let him know and arranged a pick-up as he left the nature reserve and headed back our way towards this local scarcity.
Once on site there were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing and we saw the Heron sat on the very low nest. A few other birders were already secreted in various parts of the scratty wet woodland but news wasn't good it hadn't been seen for a good while. All of a sudden a cry went out 'it's here', it had moved from the wooded area in to a sunnier glade at the back of the neighbouring gardens where we could occasionally see a face and then feet from a kid enjoying some trampolining fun - didn't seem to be disturbing our bird though. It was easy to see but not easy to photograph on the 'wrong' side of dense Hawthorn bush but soon moved into the open. A lovely little bird we see all too infrequently. Pied Flycatcher (139) hits the list. We did see on close to here many years ago, could it be a little hotspot but totally underwatched. 
We spent a good half hour watching it flit in and out of cover back in the wet woods. Also present were good numbers of Willow Warblers and a few butterflies including our first white of the year but too quick to be able to be identified.
Back at Base Camp we did a few more minor chores before being 'allowed' out again provided we called in at the shops on the way back so it was off to the nature reserve we went.
We thought about going to our newt-zone on the way but changed our mind when we saw the traffic and went directly to the wetland instead. As soon as we got out of the Land Rover a movement on the Privet bush alerted us to a Tawny Mining Bee, the first we've ever seen locally although CR gets them in his garden and was hoping to photograph them this arvo. We also saw LR with his dog who told us there'd been a couple of Whitethroats earlier in the morning. A scan of the wetland gave us no Stonechats but on the remnant hedge there were two interesting looking birds and we hoped for one of them to be a Whinchat. Wandering over cautiously one turned into a male House Sparrow, a Reed Bunting dropped in too but the mystery bird was mostly obscured on the far side of the vegetation. We could have done with being a couple of feet taller but it eventually gave itself up as a male Linnet which then dropped into the thick vegetation.
From there we had a quick look from raptor hill before committing sacrilege and going back on ourselves and walking the 'wrong way round' going to the Feeding Station first. It was quiet as would be expected on a fairly warm afternoon but a male Reed Bunting on the fat balls was something we're fairy certain we've never not seen before.
Butterflies were the most numerous they've been so far this year, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were all over the shop but a couple of Commas were our first of the year.
From the hide we had a good look at the numbers of Lesser Black Back and Herring Gulls that were dropping in all the while but couldn't find anything noteworthy amongst them. On the scrape a Common Sandpiper (140, MMLNR #84) poked around until something spooked the gulls and they flushed, it took a while to find a soaring Buzzard.
The two regular Oystercatchers were back on the scrape again too. Three Linnets dropped in on the top of the island and the Cetti's Warbler fired up nice and loud but unseen close by. 
MJ was on the embankment listening for warblers in the reeds and sure enough after a while sitting on the bench in the cold blustery wind both Reed and Sedge Warblers were heard if only briefly, the wind keeping them low and quiet.
The new hide attracted a gaggle of scrotes.
Running out of time again it was the turn of the shops so we high tailed it back to the Land Rover only to meet AM on the way who pointed out a Wheatear (MMLNR #85) on the top of a tree near the hotel. It soon flew and so we we after a bit of a chat. We were waylaid again by a local dog walker who has taken to bringing out her binoclurs now, she asked if there was anything about and we told her about the recently disappeared Wheatear and hurried on our way. At the top of the path across the wetland a Grasshopper Warbler (141, MMLNR #86) started to reel but she was now too far away against the wind to shout her back. 
So ended a much better afternoon than we expected this time yesterday.

Last night we heard from our Extreme Photographer telling us he'd been on a twitch to see the Woodchat Shrike that's landed not too far from his cottage in the sticks.
He says the pics are thee best he could do as the weather wasn't great with drizzle and the light was 'pants' and the bird a long way off!


Woodchat Shrike
He says he'll try to get back if it hangs around to get some better pics - they look alright to us!!!

Where to next? Frank's not been so good on his feet this week so we may be housebound, mothy will be out again though.
In the meantime let us know who's reeling around in your outback.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A veritable warbler-fest

The Safari had a late meeting yesterday so didn’t have to be in work until lunchtime-ish which gave us the opportunity to have a morning wander round the nature reserve. Overnight conditions looked to be quite favourable for migration so we were hopeful of finding a couple or three new species for the year.
We arrived at the wetland at about 7.45 and immediately heard the Cetti’s Warbler fire up at the far end of the path. A scan of the ponds didn’t give us the Stonechats, they’ve probably moved on now, but there were a couple of male Reed Buntings. Walking along the path the Cetti’s Warbler got louder and louder and then we saw it all aquiver at the top of the Bramble and Japanese Knotweed patch almost in full view singing its heart out. We inched closer and got the camera ready, if we could get a few more steps it would be framed by Bramble stems but unobscured, another couple of inches were inched and the bird was getting even more excited – another, a female???, was much lower down in the thicket. We ever so gently raised the camera and were just about to get our Cetti’s shot of the century when an unleashed dog bounded past us and put the bird to flight – the owner was about 30 yards behind us – bl**dy brilliant – NOT!!!
Disappointed and frustrated we continued our walk and were soon back in high spirits when we heard our first Sedge Warbler (135, MMLNR #80) of the year scratting away from the Raspberry patch. It sounded as though it was only a couple of feet the other side of the fence but try as we might we couldn’t see it.
From the scrub ahead of us on both sides of the track we could hear Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs singing. Through the reserve’s main gate we scanned the recently cleared scrub area in the hope of a Redstart as we’ve offered a Snickers bar to the person who finds one there. TS came close-ish last night with one a short distance outside the far end of the reserve but close isn’t close enough so no cigar (or chocolate bar). There wasn’t one there but there was a Blackcap singing in the uncut area adjacent. From there we stood at the gate to the paddock to scan for Wheatears (we’ve offered a Mars bar for the finder of the first one here – the grass is growing quickly and we’ve a feeling that it remain unclaimed, AH was close last night with one on the recently scraped island but close isn’t a hit so no cigar or even Fun-sized Mars bar). We were rewarded with the repetitive song of a Reed Warbler (136, MMLNR #81) coming from (yes you’ve guessed it – the reeds at the water’s edge) There was a second one a bit further along too.
From the gate we went to the Viewing Platform, only to find the bench has been taken for a spring clean and repaint. Two Shelducks dropped in but only stayed a few minutes. 
I'm not staying here darling!
Low over the water swooped well over 100 hirundines, mostly Sand Martins perhaps as many as 75, half as many Swallows but no House Martins could be seen.
Retracing our steps we came across a few more Willow Warblers and another Blackcap, it was now obvious that there’d been a fall of Willow Warblers, their song was filling the air everywhere, just beautiful to hear. We stood outside the locked Panoramic Hide (It won’t be called that officially) and looked across the water mostly at the Canada and Grey Lag Geese, there wasn’t much else. A Little Grebe trilled and then we saw at least three House Martins (137, MMLNR #82) with the other hirundines.
There was no sign of the drake Common Scoter we didn’t see the other afternoon but which was still there yesterday. Lucky we caught up with the female in last month.
Back to the scrub and more Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Robins, too, were obvious and Wrens noisy. Overhead we’d noticed a steady trickle of Chaffinches all going a little east of north but other than that there wasn’t any hint of visible migration.
From the gap in the reeds we searched the back of the island scrapes for waders and Wheatears but there were neither just more loud Cetti’s Warblers and another Sedge Warbler somewhere in the rough reedy grassland behind us. We did get stupendous views of a Chiffchaff working its way through the reeds looking for food.
For a change we headed out of the reserve across the rough field and along the ancient hedgerow with its Blackthorn just coming in to flower, here we watched a Chiffchaff gathering nesting material which it took into the depths of the thorny thicket.
At the old road we watched a Jay fly into the roadside hedge and then saw a second in the tree nearer to us. They both flew down onto the road and started pecking at something – ants, beetles perhaps - we had as look when they’d gone but couldn’t see anything that might interest them, unless they’d eaten it all of course. 
Our reason for taking this detour was to try to connect with the Tree Sparrows that are regularly seen here but we’ve not managed to see yet. The big hedge was alive with Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits with some Goldfinches there too. At the garden the feeders and bird table were empty until a Great Tit flew across and then a Goldfinch but the third and fourth birds were the ones we wanted Tree Sparrows (MMLNR #83) on the patch list at last – would have been better if they were at the reserves feeding station but beggars can’t be choosers. We stayed an watched them for a couple of minutes before turning round to leave and seeing the ‘regular’ Buzzard sat atop the hedge only a few yards away. We turned our back on it and got the camera ready only to see it watching us intently and flapping lazily away when we raised the camera in its direction – how annoying!
Back on the reserve the channel reedbed was quiet apart from yet another Cetti’s Warbler. There were no Garganeys lurking in the reed margins or on the newly lowered eastern scrape – we’re always full of optimism at this time of year.
We met up with TS and while we were chatting a steady stream of Willow Warblers jumped the short gap between the trees on the caravan site and the scrub on the bank of the mere. In the hide the female Blackbird was sitting tight but giving high pitched calls from time to time. 
Looking out of the window all was pretty quiet, a few Coots fighting, Moorhens poking around at the back of the scrape but little else until a pair of noisy Oystercatchers flew in and started displaying to each other, they were joined by an interloper and then it all kicked off in a riot of ‘kleeping’.  
A Woodpigeon landed very hopefully on the long empty bird table, there won't be any food on there until the autumn now.
Continuing on our circuit we saw yet more Willow Warblers but their song was now dying off as they settled down to the important business of feeding. Seeing the patch of Snakeshead Fritillaries young AH had photographed last week had disappeared was annoying and serious saddening, we can only hope they were nibbled off by the local Rabbits and not picked by human hand although we didn’t want to go for a closer look for fear of treading on any of the remaining ones (there’s quite a few scattered about) we do think that the latter occurred and not the former due to the obviousness of the clump and the fact that they are the only ones missing.
More Willow Warblers flitted about but still no chance of a pic for us.
Back at the main gate we met up with LR and began another partial circuit in the time we had left before having to go to work. More overflying Chaffinches and more flitting Blackcaps and a soaring Sparrowhawk were the best on offer.
Lifting the hidden refugium gave us just a Toad and a small ground beetle. At the Panoramic Hide a Sedge Warbler chuntered its tuneless and grating ditty while a Cetti’s Warbler exploded from remains of the coppiced Willow scrub. Over the water there were now no hirundines they’d all upped and left continuing their journey to where-ever it is they’re going.
As ever we ran out of time and had to head back to the Land Rover but with 53 species, four patch birds of which three were year birds it wasn’t a bad morning’s safari at all…and we really don’t think we’ve ever seen so many Willow Warblers in one day here either – we put 30+ on the FBC website but it could easily have been double that or more, difficult to tell with them flitting about all over the place.
This morning our brief Patch 2 watch gave some more ticks for the spreadsheet in the form of two Whimbrels (138, P2 #46) coming in off the sea, a distant Swallow (P2 #47) and a Rock Pipit (P2 #48) passing overhead…not forgetting three Grey Seals and a dozen fishing Sandwich Terns too.
Where to next? More warblers please this weekend
In the meantime let us know who’s flitting from bush to bush in prodigious numbers in your outback

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A day on the upland trails

The Safari and BD set off early in the morning to meet up with a group of fellow green-lane enthusiasts led by CB of UK Land Rover Events at perhaps the bleakest coastal car park we’ve ever been to. So bleak no-one got out to take a pic of the group altogether before setting off, it's usually this time the introductions are made and everyone gets to know each other.
 After a few lovely days summer was over and it was back to the end of February, heavy rain with sleet mixed in blown horizontal by a fierce wind. Some low mist was involved too, just to ruin the views of the scenery.
The first part of our trek was along farm tracks sodden with the rain across empty moorland, being the last vehicle in the group meant lots of hopping in and out and getting rained on for B as he was on gate closing duty so those pesky sheep don't get into the wrong fields.
The sat-nav showed where we were – the middle of nowhere!
Hang on, shouldn't there be some roads on there?
The spring scenery was probably stunning with views up to the higher mountains and out across the sea and Morecambe Bay but the mist and rain prevented us from seeing it.
Nothing too challenging to start with but all that was to change on our next lane when we were told to engage our diff lock…it doesn’t work too well on the Land Rover and it’s a bit of a risk putting it in in case it doesn’t come out so it was with a little trepidation we watched the more capable Defenders bouncing up the rocky steps. There was no turning back so it was onward and upward with fingers crossed. The Disco did us proud and easily waltzed up without much trouble and just enough right boot to keep the momentum going without trying to hurry or race. We got to the top and then discovered not only had we not needed the diff lock we’d forgotten to engage the low ratio gears when we came off the road – the Disco climbed a 40 degree slippery rocky staircase in normal road gears – that auto box is a beaut…but we’ll remember to put them in next time we come off the tarmac otherwise there could be some serious gearbox explosions and/or the risk of getting unextricatably stuck!
All the while we were on the look out for any wildlife we could spot. The mosses were easy, there's a whole garden of them up there in England's 'rain forests'.
For lunch we stopped at the forestry centre where B disappeared for a few minutes just before two Ravens flew right over the car park, a species he's not seen before - a bad dip!
Trendy forest visitor centre
From there we hit a trail known as The Fox a forestry track, one we've driven a few times now but always worth the trip. It was near here that some Red Kites were released a few years ago but the dreadful weather meant we stood little chance of seeing them today.

As the day progressed the weather improved and the scenery started to come out of hiding.
These are the 'stairs' mentioned in the 'Going up the stairs' pic on our sidebar
Where's there's brown Bracken there used to be probably used to be high scrubby forest, denser forest would have been on the bright green fields 1000+ years ago

That's the Safari tying on our broken rock slider - sure we knocked it off on the same boulder last time we were here
 The sun came out a bit too
Decent into Little Langdale
There is some serious conservation work trying to revive the fortunes of upland Juniper which has suffered the ravages of over-grazing by sheep and aging so that there is little fertile seed produced. In areas where it is still vigorous sheep are now being excluded and seedlings frown in the nursery and planted out if there isn't enough natural regeneration. It was a the top line of the scrubby forest long since gone now. Although the landscape looks beautiful to many those with an ecological eye see little but the remnants and scars of a ravaged land.
Unfortunately there is now a Phytopthora fungal disease which has been identified as coming from South America which is attacking them.
This stand looks healthy enough
The tradition of sheep-farming goes back many hundreds of years, probably to the Vikings if not much earlier perhaps even the Bronze Age - it's a long long time since the hills were fully forested with an accompanying suite of animals such as Wolves, Wild Boar, Eurasian Brown Bears, some still linger in the names of the hills and valleys.
Here's a few more trail pics.
Eventually we came out of the forest and on to open fellsides to find the sun had come out and the mist lifted to give us splendiferous views of the higher ground.
The Fairfield horseshoe - we've climbed that many times
Red Screes in the left middle-ground, Ill Bell and Yoke in the distance
With snow Red Screes Froswick, Ill Bell, Yoke and Buck Crag
At the foot of Buck Crag is an old road, Garburn Pass we worked on in the 80s making culverts and putting in drainage so that it was passable to vehicles. Sadly now it is closed to motorised vehicles due to the prejudices of some in the walking fraternity. If they knew how much effort we put in moving rocks up to two tons in weight with just crowbars and muscles.
We'd love to get up close and personal with that part of the world again but it is now beyond our walking capabilities - thanks a bunch Ramblers...NOT...and with getting so many lanes closed you've made honey-pots out of the remainder making you complain even more and some of those are also used by the farming community so will still have vehicles on them anyway. Have you seen the 'motorways' your boots have made across the high tops? They're a bit wider than the trails we've used today,
The Langdale Pikes
Bowfell? top left with snow
 There's a bit of architectural heritage around these parts too
Old church at High Nibthwaite - think that's where it is
By the size of the windows we reckon 16th or 17th C. And look at the Sedum on the ledge above the window
Elterwater village at the end of our journey
Here's a trek we did a few years ago covering some of the same trails

In wildlife news we've just had a couple of Swallows (Garden #25) go over and weren't sure that we didn't hear a Sand Martin earlier.
Patch 2 has been kind to us with a Yellow Legged Gull (P2 #45) yesterday and the day before and a probable 1st winter Caspian Gull today, it was distant in the dark rainy gloom but we hope we got enough of a description to get it past another CB.

Many thanks to BD for his exceptional pics - far superior to the usual out of focus poorly exposed rubbish you normally see on here - you've been spoiled this week that's for sure.

Where to next? Looking good for some migrants tomorrow
In the meantime let us know who's wobbling about in your outback